On Record: Life after housing

Imagine going full bore in 2006 with nearly 500 employees, and then suddenly hitting the sharp decline in housing. From doing 700 houses a month at the peak, you’re down to 75 home sites a month, and your employees now number around 100. That’s the present situation faced by Al Luchterhand and his partner Louie Polish, Jr., co-owners of Sun City Landscapes in Las Vegas.

Used to be, company crews were working from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. grading, shaping and landscaping yards for such major home builders as Pulte Homes and Astoria Homes. Now, Sun City has had to cut its fleet by more than half – and just counting its Cat fleet alone (skid steers, backhoes and loaders) – the company is down from 43 to 21 machines. Al and Louie are using several tactics to keep their remaining fleet busy:

Work all the angles. “We’ve learned you can’t be so focused on one thing,” says Louie. In the first part of this decade, the company was 85 percent production landscaping oriented. Now it offers a complete menu of landscaping services – including park development, hardscaping, pools and water features. And in light of the economic stimulus bill, the two owners are eying local prevailing wage work.

Pay attention to business. “Review your business plan, reduce your overhead and keep your balance sheet in check,” Al advises. “Develop a strategic sales and marketing campaign to keep your name in the forefront of the customers you are targeting.”

Partner with your clients. Al says builders are asking for rebids every six months. “We look at it as an opportunity to value engineer these projects, and come up with ways to reduce everyone’s costs and yet still have an appealing yard,” he says.

Focus on keeping your premium employees. “We’ve only got our A team left, so when we lose a person, it’s an A person,” Al says. Hard, painful decisions have had to be made. The staff that remains has become more versatile. “We’ve learned that you can cross train your personnel to take care of the pertinent tasks that are essential to your mission,” he comments.

Continue what makes sense for the future. Sun City signed on early for the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s Water Smart program, and has totally reversed its previous 1980’s practice of turf installation. The company now uses 100 percent rock scape, and spent a great deal of time working with the authority to develop approved plant lists. This water-miser emphasis is even earning the company some much-sought business these days, as it goes into older communities with large grass areas and offers a desertscape replacement.

Finally, take a breath. According to Al, the company’s experience during the past two years hasn’t all been hard times. “To tell you the truth,” he says, “it’s been kind of a break, since experiencing as much growth as we have can be bumpy. We were going so fast we didn’t have time to think. Now we can take a look at how we grew and learn how to do it more efficiently.”